The process of building a community's regard for values of sustainability and Earth Care begins with a voice of advocacy for those values. The first step towards change is always education and awareness.
At St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, parishioners are raising awareness and organizing their community toward a sustainable future through the leadership of a Green Team.
The St. Mark’s Green Team found that emphasizing the economic benefits of sustainable investments helped get church members on board with the changes.
Asked about the challenges of gaining support for sustainable reform, parishioner and Green Team leader Ginnie Judd (who now serves as Operations Director at Faith in Place) said, “I wanted St. Mark’s to be more environmentally responsible, and knowing that it would also save us money made it an easy sell to our leadership…the pay-back time was about two years on the work that we had done in 2013.” The work in question, a lighting retrofit and insulation for steam pipes, followed a free energy audit from Faith in Place, as well as an energy workshop put on by Faith in Place.
Other sustainability initiatives at St. Mark's have included: a rethinking of the Church’s recycling procedures, putting on a well-attended Meatless Dinner & program during Lent, taking on a rescue-and-rehabilitation of the expansive pollinator garden on the church’s property, collaborating with the local eco-education organization SCARCE, being a host site for a Faith in Place indoor Winter Farmers Market during the 2016-17 season, and more.
At their Winter Farmers Market, which had the highest attendance and vendor revenue of the seventeen Faith in Place markets that winter, St. Mark’s showcased a combination of local Glen Ellyn vendors and the regular Faith in Place farmers and vendors. This not only reduced the carbon footprint from the transportation of market goods, but also provided a sustainable outlet to support the local economy.
One member of the Green Team, Edna Heatherington, works on integrating sustainability into the other areas of the church, specifically the Visual Arts Committee.
Her perspective on environmentalism as a sacred duty, consistent with the values of stewardship espoused by Christianity, informs her idea of art’s relationship to the natural world. Asked how she views the complex relationship between faith, ecology, and art, she says, “most of our art exhibits have curiously direct connections to the natural world, because as much as modern Americans want to escape the natural world, we can’t – we are in fact in it, and we know it.”
Also important to St. Mark’s approach is a concerted effort to bridge linguistic boundaries – ensuring that both Spanish and English speaking parishioners have equal exposure to the ecological projects of the Church. In all of the Green Team’s efforts, from recycling to eco-education, linguistic diversity is celebrated and accounted for.
For St. Mark’s, building sustainable habits is also building a stronger community – their pollinator garden aims to do more than feed butterflies, or bolster natural pollination processes. It also aspires to be a community gathering place, somewhere made possible by the ideals of sustainable living, with great potential to inspire further conversation and action through those ideals.